All of the work produced modern science in the recent past—be it that of E.B. Tylor or of Robertson Smith or, more recently, of Vera Gordon Childe, who has argued that the Neolithic be viewed as a “revolution” —has adopted a progressivist frame of reference for humans. One finds in these works references to “late” or “backwards” societies, in contrast to “advanced civilization.” One also often finds the idea that in order to help save or advance these former societies from their miserable state, there was a “humanitarian” duty to civilize them through colonization. We thus see the appearance of a Western project designed to humanize and civilize the rest of the world. From this point onwards, we find an evolutionist history in which the beasts can become human, may be tamed, the child can grow up, no longer an eternal “adolescent” stuck in a self-imposed immaturity—he can become the author of his own actions. At the same time, this history has a paranoid dimension, constantly fearing a fall back to immaturity or animality—and a new, recent question has emerged: how should we frame humanity in an age of AI and Cyborgs?
Gallatin Global Faculty-in-Residence Levent Yilmaz is a professor of intellectual and cultural history of the early modern and modern Europe. He has taught at Istanbul Bilgi University and Koç University and his research focuses on European historiography from the 14th to 18th century.
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